FRONT ROYAL — Bridget Backstrom knew what was at stake, and the Warren County senior was determined to come through for her team.
Backstrom rallied from a set down to clinch a 5-1 victory over Loudoun Valley in the Conference 28 girls tennis tournament semifinals on Friday. The win clinches a Region 3A East berth for the Wildcats for the second straight year.
Once Backstrom was into a third set against Loudoun Valley’s Nicole Beard, she was very aware her team only needed one more win to clinch the victory.
“I think that’s what really pushed me is just knowing that we just needed this fifth [win], and I think that was a big motivator for me to win,” Backstrom said.
Beard took the first set in 41 minutes, but Backstrom said she knew she just needed to stay positive and focused.
Backstrom took the early lead in the second set, but they eventually were all tied at 5-5. Backstrom broke serve and then held to force a third set.
“I think I really used control, placement and some power shots and my serves — I tried to get those in,” Backstrom said.
Much like the second set, Backstrom took an early lead in the third set, but the pair traded service breaks until it was 5-5 again. Backstrom won the final eight points of the match. She broke at love, including a forehand return winner. She then used her powerful serve to finish off the match, as two service winners helped her close out a 2-6, 7-5, 7-5, victory in two hours and 32 minutes.
Backstrom said when the third set was tight, she talked to herself to help get her through it.
“I had to tell myself it’s all right, don’t focus on the last point, just focus on the next point,” Backstrom said. “Mainly just keep myself calm and focused.”
The Wildcats (13-0) wasted little time in building a 4-0 lead. Jayme Goode beat Loudoun Valley’s Rachel Carson, 6-0, 6-1 in 52 minutes at No. 1 singles. At No.3 Warren County’s Jamie Kitzmiller beat Kaitlyn Harper, 6-2, 6-1.
Warren County’s Alyssa Pauley was playing a familiar opponent at No. 4. Earlier this season, Pauley lost to Loudoun Valley’s Ashley White, but Pauley made sure history didn’t repeat itself. Pauley defeated White, 6-1, 6-2 on Friday.
“It was kind of like I had a little bit of fight in me to come back and beat her,” Pauley said. “I was more focused this time, and more concentrated on being consistent, getting my shots in, placing the ball. Doing everything that I had to do.”
Warren County’s Pearl Moore extended the lead to 4-0 with a 6-1, 7-5 victory over Julie Sargent. Moore looked to be in control as she led 5-4 in the second set, but Sargent broke back to even the set.
Moore regrouped quickly and won eight of the last 12 points to finish the match off.
At No. 6, Warren County’s Gabby Goodson dropped the first set of her match with Payton Davenport, but came back strong in the second set. The second set ended in a marathon tiebreaker, which Davenport pulled out for a 6-2, 7-6 (10) win.
The Wildcats will host John Champe in the Conference 28 final on Monday. Both teams are in the regionals, but the winner will get to host a regional match. The Wildcats lost in the regional semifinals last year.
Warren County coach Katie Brennan said she’s looking forward to regional play.
“I’m excited we’re going to see new competition,” Brennan said. ” … I think that’s going to be nice for the girls to play against players they haven’t played yet.”
On Monday, the Wildcats will try for their second straight Conference 28 crown.
“To be back-to-back champions would be amazing, especially since last year we had so many seniors in the top six,” Pauley said. “This year it’s a whole new group of girls. So to win it would be amazing for the new girls, to experience it firsthand on the court.”
Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or firstname.lastname@example.org